Coming of Age in Arabia
Coming of Age in Arabia
A Memoir of Aden before the Terror
6 X 9 inches, 248 pages
WHEN TOM HENIGHAN ARRIVED IN ADEN, South Arabia, in 1957 to serve as a vice consul in the United States Consulate, he was young and inexperienced, and Aden was a sleepy outpost of the British Empire. As the title of his memoir, Coming of Age in Arabia, suggests, his first Foreign Service posting turned out to be a profound and wide-ranging learning experience. Of course he gloried in the opportunity to acquaint himself with the culture, the landscape, and, to a more limited extent, the people of the region. But no less fascinating was his encounter with other communities, such as those of the British colonial administration and, surprisingly enough, his own colleagues at the Consulate. As a New Yorker of middling social status, he discovered to his cost that the tradition of staffing foreign missions with scions of northeastern elite families had by no means died out.
The core of Henighan's book is a lively mix of stories, some arising from the author's professional duties and some from his personal relationships, including his sometimes tentative, sometimes raucous attempts to get a mature romantic—or, at the very least, sexual—life underway. His consular assignments often involved travels elsewhere in the region, and the reader experiences these varied landscapes through the fresh, sometimes bewildered eyes of the young vice consul.
As his account proceeds, Henighan gradually recognizes in his earlier observations of that seemingly placid world of long ago, callow and naïve though they may have been, symptoms of the disorder and violence that has characterized much of the history of the region in the four decades since. He is also able to find in the region's far more remote history clues to contemporary developments that neither he, his State Department colleagues, nor the British colonial authorities foresaw at the time.
In addition to publishing fiction and poetry, Tom Henighan is the author of three important books on Canadian arts and culture: The Maclean’s Companion to Canadian Arts and Culture (2000), Ideas of North (1997), and The Presumption of Culture (1996). His opinions on Canadian culture have been cited in MacLean’s, the Globe and Mail, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere, while his books have been required reading on courses at various universities.